Frankly Anything


A blog about, frankly, anything

What Makes Someone “Gifted”

I’ve been on and off the drums over the last 8 years, ever since buying my first, and only, kit. Don’t let the “eight years” mislead you. As pilots log their “hours in the cockpit”, if I were to do the same for “hours on the throne” it’d probably total up to somewhere between 6-12 months (and my lack of proficiency on this instrument proves it).

A while back I picked up a copy of John Riley’s excellent drum technique DVD “The Master Drummer”. John is an authority on modern drumming, esp jazz drumming, and has a number of devotees. His speaking style is a little on the stiff side, but the quality of what he was to say on drumming is without peer.

In the DVD he pauses for a moment to reflect on the idea of “The Gift”. i.e. why do some people seem “gifted” when it comes to playing the drums (or any craft really) and others not?

I found his response to this question really powerful. It applies not just to drumming, but everything.

My Paris Run – 7:00 am, Sunday June 13, 2010

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Glen or Glenda? How Girls Become Girls and Boys Become Boys

How Is Sex DeterminedStumbled across this section of that includes an informative little Flash presentation on what happens during the first weeks after conception that determine whether you’re a dude or a chick.

Spoiler: for the first 6 weeks our sexual apparatus are identical.

Why Life Is A Struggle

The area encircling the set of actions we're comfortable performing intersects slightly with the set of actions most rewarding.

Thanks to garry's posterous

Beautiful Evidence

Don’t watch this here but rather click to watch it on Vimeo, where you’ll see it in HD. Stunning.

Fish, Water and Why Am I the Center of the Universe?

"State Hospital" by Edward Kienholz

If you haven’t read David Foster Wallace’s 2005 commencement address to the graduating seniors of Kenyon College then you should. In addition to being a fine piece of writing by an author who went on to kill himself, it’s an interesting meditation on consciousness. In it he talks about how each of us is born with a “default setting” of being wired to believe that:

“…everything in my own immediate experience supports my deep belief that I am the absolute center of the universe; the realist, most vivid and important person in existence.”

This is an observation that most people make early on in life, usually around the same time you realize you’ll one day die. But, as illustrated in DFW’s fish/water parable, it’s so obvious that you pretty quickly forget it. Periodically remembering it tends to cause huge shifts in perspective that then spring right back to your normal, day-to-day setting.

It’s interesting to think about this in evolutionary terms. i.e. why did we develop this particular perspective as opposed to my-neighbor-is-the-center-of-the-universe?  The armchair-evolutionist answer is that the best way to equip an organism for survival and reproduction is to confer upon it the belief that it is the center of universe.

What better way to ensure you get all the food, water and sexual partners you need to survive and thrive?

In the ancestral environment in which we evolved this turned out to be a really good strategy. Back then, living another day, much less reproducing, was far from a sure bet. So all resources had to be marshaled to the goal of survival. However the environment most of us live in today is nothing like that of 200,000 years ago. We’ve since built structures and institutions that, at least, minimize the risk of death by most anything but natural causes. Yet we are saddled with brains that are still wired for survival. For examples of how this manifests itself in the context of 21st century life see the examples DFW cites in his commencement address.

The part that’s interesting though is whether or not that can be changed. i.e. can our brains evolve such that this enabler of the survival instinct is bred out of us and a more compassionate, holistic perspective takes its place? A few things would need to happen for that to occur. For starters, our environment would need to reward people who think this way with more opportunities to reproduce. I don’t think this evolutionary mechanism of natural selection is operant anymore, for reasons having to do with modern life, the moral codes related to creating offspring and the raising of them, etc. i.e. back in the day, if you were considered reproductively fit, you could spend all your non-surviving hours having sex with as many partners as you wanted, with little thought to the consequences. Today we don’t approve of people who go around siring children without taking responsibility for them.

Is there some other benefit that’s confered by the ability to hold this it’s-not-all-about-me perspective, such that it might be passed down genetically? Or is it more like the idea of equality, in that it’s not something that’s inherited but instead a cultural disposition that emerges and gets passed down to future generations. A meme, in effect. Is this mindset to our moral and cultural development akin to what the notion of equality was in the Iron age? i.e. in the year 3009 will we have laws that are underpinned by the notion that each of us is not the center of the universe? In the same way we have laws against discrimination that are underpinned by our collective subscription to the notion of equality?

The Power of Design

I really like this video that Continuum created to talk about design. The notion of identifying a problem (the insight) and then creating a solution for it (the idea) is what gets me out of bed in the morning. It’s a playground.

While the principle applies to any domain, for me, digital as the context to identify those insights and ideas is the place to be.

Resonance from Continuum on Vimeo.

via Design Sojourn

Social Media And The Stupidity Of Crowds

Konami announced last week that they’re not releasing Atomic Games’ first-person-shooter “Six Days in Fallujah.” By all reports the game was intended to recreate the experience of the war-torn city after which it was named.

The game was already under scrutiny for setting the conflict in a war that is still unresolved. The company reportedly received complaints from veterans of the war and their families and friends. However it appears the final straw was Atomic Games’ president Peter Tamte’s recent interview with Joystiq. Specifically, that Atomic Games used genuine Iraqi insurgents in the design/development of the game.

As pointed out by Gaming Insider, the videogame landscape is littered with titles set on battlegrounds, both real and imagined. Admittedly most of these settings are WWII. You’ll find titles set in Vietnam but those have not proved to be big sellers on the order of “Call of Duty” and its ilk.

There are two things going on here that are interesting to note:

  1. the disproportionate response to the voices of a small, but vocal, few
  2. why we find it acceptable to purchase videogames set in WWII but abhorent to make (much less purchase) a game set in an ongoing conflict like Iraq.

I’ll address the first issue here, and the second in future post.

angry mob

Might Makes Right?

The decision by Konami is another example of digital disproportionately amplifying the voices of a small, yet vocal, number of opponents.

We’ve seen this before, most recently with Motrin’s mommy bloggers and Tropicana’s package redesign; a company reacting to a few vocal influencers. But in all of these cases it’s worth asking some questions:

Are the number of people complaining representative of the larger population? Or are they simply a very small, vocal minority, who happen to wield the digital microphone that is the World Wide Web? Kahneman and Tversky, via their Availability heuristic, demonstrated quite clearly how the rantings of a small minority can be mistakenly perceived as the overwhelming din of the majority.

It also calls into question to what extent the complaints about this game (or the Motrin commercial or the Tropicana redesign) really would have negatively affected sales. In the case of Tropicana, were their redesign to have happened 15 or even 10 years ago, I can’t help but think a consumer walking through the grocery store would’ve simply looked at the new package, mumbled “that’s stupid, i liked the old one better” as they dropped the product in their shopping basket.

Further, as a shareholder of any of those companies (which I am not) I would be appalled to learn that the company is making decisions that cost hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of dollars seemingly on a whim. i.e. recalling media spend, consequently throwing out millions spent on production or unwinding packaging and design decisions that cost millions of dollars.

I’m all about marketing being more about conversations and relationships rather than simply outbound communication (it’s how I make my living). Technology allows us to tap into conversations that we never would have heard otherwise. But it also allows conversations to spin up, by facilitating a virtual “mob” mentality; mobs that might otherwise have never emerged.

What criteria should a company use to gauge when it should take action based on the brute force of a few. Is it purely quantitative? i.e. the numbers complaining reach some numerical threshold? Or is there a need for a new role in organizations? Someone who acts as an intermediary between an enterprise’s most loyal consumers and its executive management. A kind of brand ombudsman, if you will. Is this the responsibility of a community manager? Or someone higher up?

In a future post I’ll write about the changing roles in organizations as a result of the influence of digital technology on the enterprise. This is one example where it’s quite possible we need to rethink how businesses structure themselves to meet the needs not only of new customers but of their most loyal.

Digital Subway

I love subways and I love digital. Who would’ve imagined combining the two? The good people at Information Architects, that’s who.

via TechCrunch

People Want To Be Marketed To

Let’s face it. We all have needs. We have needs for things beyond those things we need simply for survival (shelter, food, sex, etc). Once we meet Maslow’s foundational needs we begin wanting things that aren’t as easily attainable (relatively):

New tools, things to help in recreation or things to help us save time, to do something better or feel better about ourselves.

Common sense says that when you identify something you want from another person you should make a request of them. Why does this same principle not hold true commercially? Shouldn’t people make requests of brands when there’s something they want? We do this already, when we walk into a retailer or navigate to The whole notion of permission marketing is founded on this idea.

But does it work the other way around?

Should brands make requests of consumers?

“Hi, this is Walmart. The economy really sucks right now. Is there anything you need that we can help you with?”

In one sense brands already do this via advertising. The difference is that they make some intelligent (hopefully) guesses as to what we might want and then offer it up to us. But this is also inefficient, especially as the needs and wants fracture further into smaller and smaller niches. Even more so, as the places people go (in terms of media habits, behaviors, etc) also splinter.

So what’s left?

How about people being transparent with respect to their wants and needs, such that brands can observe them and, if there’s a match between a request and an offer, the brand can respond. Seems to make sense. The best way we have of doing this now is behavioral targeting (BT). However there’s a lot of anxiety around the use of BT. The prevailing concern is that the information gathered by BT could be used for nefarious purposes. These concerns tend to be exaggerated and can be easily addressed via anonymizing tools, equivalent to how retailers mask all but the last 4 digits of your credit card on your receipt.

I doubt this will happen within the next 5-7 years, mostly because most people still live in fear of the web when it comes to issues like privacy. However as younger generations, who grow up accustomed to granting more transparency online in exchange for its benefits, will move us beyond our generation’s willies about the web.

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//02/25/2010 - added Tynt tracking code to try out Tynt